Your Ultimate Guide to Camp Stove and Fuel Options
In line with my last post about How Much Food Appalachian Thru-Hikers Should Be Eating, this post is all about FIRE! Well, it is indirectly about fire because you use fire to cook your food. There are many ways to go about harvesting your fire whether it be in the fire pit, through a home-made alcohol stove, or with a high tech monster. We even hiked with a gal who decided to hike without a stove but she ended up getting sick of eating bars all the time and last I heard from her, was getting her own stove.
If you’re a pyromaniac, you just want a spray bottle (with spray and stream settings) full of denatured alcohol and a long/candle lighter to make cool designs and stop people from talking to you (as observed at Trail Days 2013). You would cook over whatever your latest fire was started on!
If you’re not a pyro, here is a quick breakdown of the different types of stoves, fuel, and a comparison of specific stoves:
We started out with the BioLite Campstove because we weren’t sure about fuel availability on the trail, and we are nature-loving hippies. We wanted to be more environmentally friendly using a renewable fuel source that was readily available and to charge our electronics with the same source! While I think BioLite is putting out some amazing products, it is NOT the stove for thru-hiking. It’s size and weight make not carrying fuel negligible. Also, our phones and camera batteries lasted long enough until our next town stops to charge. We will use this for shorter trips where we aren’t hiking as many miles but we suffered carrying this because of our idealist views. If you want to try a wood stove, you should use something like the Vargo Titanium Hexagon wood stove which is basically a folding piece of metal that protects the wood from wind and you set your pot on it. The downside of a wood stove is that if it rains, your fuel won’t burn so you’ll want to carry some dry pieces of wood or starter sticks to light your initial flame. It can be frustrating and time consuming to get wood after a long day of hiking.
I did not see anyone using a tablet stove although it seemed to be the lightest option in terms of stove weight, fuel weight and cost as you can see in the breakdown above. It can even be cheaper if you make your own tablets, but homemade ones are inconsistent as far as output and can be smelly/leave a lot of residue on your pot. Tablets can be put out and the remaining part reused but manufactured ones can break up if damp. Even manufactured tablets can sometimes leave a residue and are made of chemicals. If it is the cheapest and lightest option, why aren’t more people using them? The drawbacks are that fuel tablets are harder to find on the trail, so you’ll have to send them to yourself and carry more of them depending on how often you can get to a post office. Carrying more tablets and the added shipping expense might make another option more reasonable. Plus, although the tablets are supposedly not toxic if you use a pot (do not cook over the open flame), you need to take storage precautions because ingesting any part of the tablet can lead to nausea, vomiting, and kidney damage.
(Related reading: How to Make Your Own Esbit Stove and Fuel Tablets)
Alcohol stoves were the 2nd most popular after canister stoves and if I were hiking solo, I think this would have been my first choice. The stoves and fuel are cheap and easy to find. You can also make your own alcohol stoves out of aluminum cans. The downsides are that you don’t have flame control so it is only good for boiling water (which is really all the cooking you do anyway). It is hard to find in small quantities of denatured alcohol so if you buy some, you’ll probably want to buy a smaller container to put it in and share the rest with a hiking buddy.
Our favorite stove is the MSR Pocket Rocket. It is light and can be easily stored. It screws right onto the fuel canister unlike the additional connective materials MSR Whisperlites have adding extra weight. Maybe the Jetboil will save you 1 minutes worth of time and fuel but you still have to carry the same size fuel canister in addition to its 11.75 oz. The MSR Pocket Rocket had an efficient cook time which was important since we were cooking for 2 and whoever cooked 2nd had less time to stare at the eater… drooling… Fuel was also easy to find although it was the most expensive type of fuel. I feel like a canister lasted longer than the Fuel Burn Time I listed above but I just know it cooked me the food the fastest for the weight! Some reviewers say it was not stable but we didn’t have any problems with a 1.8 liter pot. It was also great to be able to control the flame because you don’t need a full boil for tea/coffee. The Pocket Rocket was also the best in terms of fire safety. Canister stoves are less of a fire hazard because the fuel is never exposed. If you tip the stove over, fuel will not spill everywhere like the alcohol stove or catch things it touches on fire and be hard to pick up like a tablet. You can’t pick up a burning tablet with your bare hands but you can turn the canister stove back over easily.
There are many stoves to choose from and I hope this post makes it easier to pick the best choice for your thru-hike! In my next post, I’ll try to review other camp kitchen gear. As always, feel free to suggest things for us to review!
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